Interview with Laura Matthias Bendoly, author of The Peddler of Wisdom

Please help me welcome author Laura Matthias Bendoly to the blog today! Laura is currently on blog tour for The Peddler of Wisdom and she graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me! I hope you enjoy!

You can check out my review of The Peddler of Wisdom here, and don't forget to enter our giveaway below for an eBook or Apothecary soap!

Hello Laura and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about The Peddler of Wisdom!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I am an Indiana native but I lived the longest in Georgia, where I set my second novel, Laerka – a Savannah mermaid tale retelling. My current home is in a northern neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. My life as a writer started as an undergraduate, but I was always a reader. Even before I became an avid reader, I was an inventor of worlds. I had my own archaeological dig for a while as an eleven-year-old, for example. I unearthed a few gallons of pottery remains near an old church yard, and I considered myself the next Indiana Jones. I also was a great lover of mythology and folktale, certain that I would be the kid who would find a fairy glen in my back yard or a back door to Narnia. I did an MFA in writing during my twenties, but then I took a long break (finding paid work, having children) and took a big dare of writing a full novel after my second child. That manuscript became The Estate, my mystery set in Scotland.

What inspired you to write The Peddler of Wisdom?

I spent a year in France as a college sophomore. Though I was at a college in France’s northwest, and not in Provence, where I set Peddler, I went to that region often enough to recognize its allure. Provence’s combination of Roman ruins, Christian mythology (the cult of Mary Magdalene, in particular), Gypsy horse culture, wine-making, art, flower growing, natural dying, and fruit cultivation is unparalleled. Also the abundance of one-time autonomous ducal regions makes the province particularly useful to an author who requires an isolated community as the setting. Provence was self-governed for centuries after the fall of the Roman empire, and its attitude remains very independent, not requiring the oversight of Paris or the greater French Republic, in a sense. My character, Irène, is a person of this same spirit. She doesn’t answer to a higher authority, really. She considers the healing trade to be her master, and also the mountains, where she finds her medicinal ingredients. The highest authority though is her combination Christian God/pagan goddess spirit, who regularly speaks to her and gives advice.

What research did you undertake when writing The Peddler of Wisdom?

I spent six years researching and writing Peddler. In a way, I have never stopped researching the book, since I find the subject of early medicine extremely interesting. Women did participate in the sciences during the 17th century. However, they did so informally. They rarely received the tax status of ‘physician’ and were almost never allowed to attend university to acquire a degree in medicine. However, women, especially wives, were expected to grow healing gardens as a matter of course. Those who were literate and whose gardens and kitchens were sufficiently large sometimes kept journals or recipe books. These ladies became some of Europe’s earliest female pharmacists, though they’d never have called themselves that. I spent many months reading accounts of German, French, Italian and English women who took care of their families and nearby communities with the herbs they grew and the healing powders they prepared and documented in pharmacopeia – pharmacy manuals that now reside at Europe’s leading research libraries.

As well as studying the work of informal lady medics, I examined alchemy books, Renaissance star charts, anatomy illustrations from Muslim Spain, numerous pages of Catrina Sforza’s treatise on cosmetics, accounts of Tudor women’s homemade makeup, and sixteenth-century culinary books. I studied maps and battlegrounds from six nations, I read a shelfful of French folktales and corresponded with curators, historians, tourism experts, alchemy practitioners, and rare book collectors in France, England, Canada, and Scotland.

What would you like readers to take away from reading The Peddler of Wisdom?

I hope that after spending time with The Peddler of Wisdom that readers will consider what’s in their own garden. How they might help their neighbor with a small task, and, also, consider how to be kind to the earth around them which gives them such an abundance of gifts. I hope, too, that some will consider researching a little-known person who might have contributed in a small way to a great mission – to the liberating of a community, perhaps. But also to the healing of some small rift. Small slights can grow, on occasion, to centuries of war. But if we try to salve the small wounds, great things can come, and our group dynamic can resist strains from distress and illness, pain and embarrassment. Irene simply reached out to her neighbors, often without payment, to say I care. I can help you. Just let me in to talk to you. You don’t have to take my advice, but you need to hear that I care. Sometimes, that makes so much difference. It can even save a life. You don’t have to be a Queen Elizabeth or a Catherine di Medici to matter in the greater scheme, in The History of mankind. You just have to care and touch a life, in a small way, regularly. Doing this is what knits the world together.

What was your favorite scene to write?

The scene of the fireflies was a great one. So was the scene when Durande, Irene and Noisette go up the mountain to visit Zahara’s source. I was taken on that hike with them and just watched them chasing butterflies.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

My scenes in mine tunnels required a lot of re-writing. I haven’t been to a salt mine, in person. I have been inside a lot of caves – most of them the spelunking type. I have also been to a few gold mines in Georgia. The Blue Ridge Mountains are famous for gold. There are salt mines in Switzerland and Austria, and Peddler’s fictional village is at the border of Switzerland/France/Italy. I sort of moved an existing area of salt deposit slightly west for this novel. There are some detailed vintage photographs of salt mines at several on line catalogs that I visited, as well as virtual mines you can travel along on line. From these photographs and web galleries, I made my underground descriptions. When an author doesn’t have a publisher’s advance, she has to make do with published or Internet sources.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I didn’t. I avoided it for years. It sounded just so hard, so time consuming, and involved constant re-work, re-invention, and rejection. So, I did six other jobs first. I was never satisfied with those jobs, however, and came back to writing. Now I can’t do anything else.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

Lists! I write a lot of them. I write lists on paper, on emails, in texts, on the backs of envelopes, on bookmarks. I also collect and merge emails into long (crazy long) Word files and then try to extract sentences out of them. This is often the way stories begin for me – as conversations between myself and an informant, or as Q and A with myself. Example: “Why would there be no market at the village, Monsieur LaPaille?” “Because the village was too small. We went to St. Etienne for market when the roads were clear. But only in the spring. There was too much snow in winter.” “I see. Note to self. No winter market. Make the plot take place in the summer – market required for villager meetups/conversation/commerce.”

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

How to turn a phrase differently …. How to describe an experience in a way I have never done before or in a way no other writer has done before. This is a challenge I will probably never achieve to my satisfaction. I dread that idea that I’m writing the same book every time, or the same sentence!

Another challenge – remaining sufficiently interested in my subject. If it’s a subject I have imagined, I often don’t have enough details to remain engaged long term. As a novel takes me several years, I HAVE to stay involved with my protagonist, or at least with a problem she is wrapped up in. My Laerka protagonist, Stella, who was an invented person, like Irène, stayed interesting for me during the four/five years of writing that novel because of her location. The city of Savannah is so endlessly fascinating, with such a history and so many fabulous corners and secrets and bayous and marshes, that even when Stella’s conversation got a little stale, I found some old washed up boat to talk about, or a weird bit of driftwood. And, bing, I’m into it again, and, hopefully, my writing stays fresh.

Who are your writing inspirations?

There’s a lot! I get ideas from old maps, historic paintings, landscape photography, collectible objects, peoples’ handwriting, journals, illustrations, recipes, travel writing, tourist sketches, other people’s lists, stamps, vintage prints, costumes, old books, community/rural museums, garden tools, museum catalogs, wine, perfume, flowers, regional trees, old date books/agendas and calendars.

What was the first historical novel you read?


What is the last historical novel you read?

Manhattan Beach.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I am the only freckled person in my family. I don’t care for beets. I would like to visit Russia – when they’re done shooting down passenger planes.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

I love being surprised by details from history. There’s a lot an author can pluck from her imagination and experience, but beyond that, you either have to interview others for your details or go to the library. I confess I prefer the library. You don’t have to ask permission to write the detail down or get an attorney to represent you. If it’s in the historic record, you get to keep it! For your own use! Of course, you should use that detail wisely. I loved finding out, for example, that the best Renaissance feast involved stuffed meats. Literally – the chef at a wealthy manor house would prepare for his lord a duck stuffed into a swan stuffed into a boar stuffed into a steer. And then he covered all that with pasty in the shape of a castle. I’m not making this up.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

I love the ancients. Madeline Miller’s Greek myth retellings are fabulous. I also enjoy the folklore of the British Isles. There’s an Irish mystery writer I love, Erin Hart, who uses Ireland’s bog people and the flora and fauna of the island’s wild landscape just beautifully. The Middle Ages are a constant source of interest for me, especially as they are so hard to research. I loved Ken Follet’s treatment of this time period. In terms of more recent historical fiction, Carlos Luis Zafon is brilliant in his capturing of 1930s Spain, as is Tennessee author Amy Green, famous for the Great Depression-era Long Man and Blood Root.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

I like to sit near a window with a view. Right now I’m on the couch overlooking the neighborhood ravine – a shallow gorge with a creek running through. Today the ravine has a new dusting of snow, so it’s very clean and white with the outline of every branch visible. It’s cold and leafless but quite and very beautiful.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I'm revising an old manuscript featuring a Gypsy family on the lam in the Midwest. And I'm collecting boarding school stories from the 1950s. I'd like to write a novel about that period, especially for my mom, herself a boarder during that decade.

That sounds fascinating! Thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us today. I loved The Peddler of Wisdom!

The Peddler of Wisdom by Laura Matthias Bendoly

Publication Date: December 18, 2018
eBook & Paperback; 425 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

In the borderlands of the village Les Échelles, giants sleep and werewolves howl. Travelers must cross deep gorges to pay visit. The only strangers are treasure-hunters seeking the riches of Zahara, a drowned Crusader bride. She planted the nearby woods with rich botanicals, now the healing herbs of Irène Guéri, apothecary in these parts. When a cruel invader storms the village he brings along his shy, though brilliant alchemist, Joaquíno Durande. Will Irene join forces with this scholar, risking her profession and her neighbors’ trust, or flee to the valley? Enormous decisions await, and great danger as friends, neighbors, and even the tools of Irene’s workshop rise, enchanted, into the fray of war.

"Put together a hidden Medieval village, a widowed healer who tries to overthrow a murderous invader, and a possible-- if dangerous-- romance, and you have The Peddler of Wisdom, add to this Laura Matthias Bendoly's spritely style and a complex world where no one can be trusted, and you will be sucked into this tale as swiftly and completely as I was. Read it." - Sonia Gernes, ProfessorEmerita, University of Notre Dame, author of What You Hear in the Dark, New and Selected Poems

"An exciting plot, vivid characters and a clearly imagined 17th-century France. A rich tapestry of folklore, tarot, and alchemy." - Maureen Boulton, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto and Professor Emeritus of French, Dept. of Romance Languages University of Notre Dame

Available on Amazon

About the Author

Though I grew up in northern Indiana, most of my work takes place elsewhere. My characters are slightly offbeat eccentrics. They wear Goth clothes and invent secret passwords. They make friends with outsiders and from those fringes my heroines gain their strength. Though these protagonists don't have supernatural powers, they absorb a kind of magic from those they help and gather as friends. This is so with hero Stella Delaney, whose mission to save a trafficked foreign girl gains strength from the powers of a mysterious Gullah woman. So is it the case with Eileen Morgan, whose trip to Scotland wraps her in a world of ghosts and a deadly struggle for entitlement between a wealthy land-owning family and their one-time vassals, now barely hanging on.

I write about the places I have seen as an outsider but in which I could see myself in another life...a boat guide along one of the Georgia marshes, a shepherd in the Scottish lowlands, a craftswoman in Cornwall, in Western Great Britain, or a healer in rural Southern France. Will I ever be that woman? Only if I write myself there, and I love to bring new readers along.

I live in Columbus Ohio with my family.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February 4
Excerpt at The Lit Bitch

Tuesday, February 5
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Wednesday, February 6
Excerpt at Suzy Approved Book Reviews

Thursday, February 7
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Friday, February 8
Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Sunday, February 10
Excerpt at Old Timey Books

Tuesday, February 12
Review at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, February 13
Interview at Passages to the Past

Thursday, February 14
Review at Coffee and Ink

Friday, February 15
Feature at CelticLady's Reviews


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away two eBooks of The Peddler of Wisdom! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on February 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

The Peddler of Wisdom

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